This is how it begins. The cab driver.
The first day of October.
The cab driver. Jay Exe. The car gathered the first glaze of frost as the early hours came. He crossed one road, then another, blinking into the rotating orange lights of a bin lorry gathering waste from the grey office block opposite the cab office.
The stark strip lighting bled onto the pavement, the open door leading into a cramped space before the controller behind a desk surrounded by a mesh deterrent. The phone panel flashed red as Jay took the plastic chair by the window blocked with a hand painted sign ‘MINICAB’. He heard the controller, unshaven, the heater screwed to the wall above his head drawing sweat into the habitual brown shirt he wore, buttons straining. The script demanded by the owner offered platitudes to the caller for choosing their service, as he ripped the top sheet from his pad and passed it below the mesh to Jay without speaking, a cough preceding the replacement of the Turkish cigarette between his chapped lips with a tinge of blue.
The night air gave urgency to his walk back to the car, the engine revving as he swung the rag across the windscreen, the sheet on the seat beside him directing a pick up on a local estate in the pained scrawl of the barely literate. He could taste the tobacco smoke as he wound down the windows to release the odors of his last fare, a greased coupling of kebab meat and drunken mouths forcing themselves together before she fell onto the pavement getting out while the man paid with ill grace.
The given name was Mr Jones. No address, just a street. As the windows slid closed, he slipped the cab into gear and rolled away from the kerb, back onto the main road to pass the controller watching from his bright oasis among the closed and boarded shop fronts.
He removed a glove to take his pills as he pulled into the estate, some ten minutes from the cab office. The working street lights offered pools of cold white circles on tarmac pavements leading into an array of ill-planned alleyways. The estate, tall and brooding, dotted with bedroom lights, thumping bass lines clashing overhead from open windows and balcony gatherings. A scream of pleasure or dissent came from somewhere, then shouting from another place. Jay ran his fingers across the central locking button on the center console as he focused on the digital clock. He heard the rasping voice of the controller across the rented radio set, directing someone else to another fare on the other side of town, the better part.
A figure towards him, hooded and slouching. He released the handbrake as the youth got in. He looked in the mirror and saw a boy, his hood pulled forwards, slumped.
“Are you Mr Jones?”
“Drive the car. Pick them two up down there.”
Two more figures standing in the shadows by one of the alleyways, almost at the next junction, further into the estate. He felt the oppression, could smell sweat from the boy behind him, tasted the stale air in his cab as he licked his lips.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Just fucking pick them two up and I’ll tell you where we want to go to.”
He did as directed, the matter of moments it took to drive between the space of the streetlight to the doors being opened on each side of the car under the shadow of one of the tallest blocks on the estate, half of the flats empty now.
Moments became seconds, which became longer than he’d known, as an arm come around his throat and his head was pulled back. A punch in the face, from the one in the passenger seat with a scarf pulled up across his face, came seconds before he was pulled out onto the road, dragged into the shadows, each of them trying to land punches, kicks, on his twisting body.
He heard them screaming at him, “where’s the fucking money! Where’s the fucking money!” He had heard the stories from other cab drivers about the estate, about what could happen, but he never believed the stories, not believing that people would act that way for a few pounds in loose change. He knew their anger as they kicked his sides. One leaned into the cab and searching the contents of the glove compartment. His photo ID was yanked from the mirror and thrown into the footwell.
Then it started.
One sat astride him, the one with a scarf over his face, only the glaze of his eyes inches away. A blade appeared, the tip pressed into his eye. His body frozen, he felt the breath of another one as they learnt into his face, spittle from their laughter sprayed across the cold sweat of his face. They talked of digging his eye out, the blade prick sending white flashes through his sight, coloured dots tracing his vision as he realised his wallet was being wrenched from this pocket. The token notes all that they sought, the pleasure of his torment their sport. The knife went, his panicked blinking met with a flood of punches to his head, stamps across his torso, his genitals, their jackal howls absorbed into the concrete walls around them.
And in an instant they were gone as the sound of a siren rose from the distance.
* * *
Jay sat in the back of the police car, his fingers running over the grazes on his cheeks. He felt his hands shaking, pressed them between his thighs to calm the movement. The policeman sat in the front seat, writing in a notebook.
“So you reckon they just jumped in the car and robbed you?”
“One did. The others came over and pulled me out. They took my wallet. My phone.”
“Where did you pick them up from?”
“Just here. I was sent here to pick up a Mr Jones.”
“Mr Jones? You sure?”
“That was the name I was given.”
“You sure you being upfront?”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
The policeman turned, shoving his notebook into the top pocket of his shirt. “You know what you’re alleging?”
“I’m just telling you what happened to me.”
“You’re trying to tell me you drove here of your own accord to pick up someone called Mr Jones and then three black boys decide to rob you of how much?”
“About thirty pounds.”
“About thirty pounds. You know what this area is don’t you?”
“A housing estate.”
“Don’t get clever. You know what I mean. Drugs. This is where you come to score isn’t it? Do a bit of running around for the dealers? Pissed someone off? Debt of some kind?”
“No! I am a minicab driver. I work through the night. I was attacked…”
“You know what my bosses think about robbery? Mugging? They think it’s a heinous crime that needs a robust police response. And you know what else? They don’t like the robbery figures getting too high, because it scares the public, decent people, and the press write about that, and my bosses don’t get their promotion. Know what I mean?”
“And what my job is, Jay, is to make sure those figures don’t get too high so I can spend more time trying to catch the muggers and look after the old ladies who get turned over for their pension money. See where I’m coming from? Don’t need things like this getting in the way of serving the public. The decent public I mean. Understand?”
“What are you saying? Are you saying that I am lying about this?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time would it?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“People like you telling lies to the police to explain to their boss where the money’s gone.”
“People like me? What is your name?”
“They call me Iceberg. You can call me sir. Now get the fuck out of my police car.”
Two months, twenty days to go.
Read the rest of the story here: